January 4, 2018 by Jean
One of my favorite rituals for New Year’s Day is to review the year that has just ended and make plans for the coming year. My typical New Year’s review focuses primarily on finances, as I balance my household accounts and set up my budget for the coming year. In this post, I’d like to extend that review by checking in about my physical and psychological health as well as my financial health.
When I retired at age 66, my goal was to support myself with savings and funds from a traditional IRA until age 70, when I would begin collecting Social Security benefits. I wasn’t sure my savings would last until my seventieth birthday, mostly because I spent more of those savings than I had expected at the beginning of my retirement to finance the addition on my house. While I have cut it close, I will make it. My birthday is in March, which means that I will begin receiving Social Security benefits in April; and I currently have four months of living expenses left in savings. It helped that I have been receiving a small Social Security benefit from my ex-husband’s account for the past three years, a benefit that has also paid my Part B Medicare premium. I don’t yet know how much my monthly benefit will be under my own Social Security coverage, but I expect it to be a bit more than my current monthly budget.
Because I will turn seventy in March, this is also the year when I must begin to take required minimum distributions from my 403(b) retirement savings. I don’t need these funds for living expenses, but I will use them to replenish my depleted savings account at the bank, providing an emergency fund and money for travel.
For the first three years of my retirement, my former employer provided health insurance to supplement Medicare, including prescription drug, dental, and vision coverage. Beginning this year, I would be on my own to buy supplemental insurance. Or that’s what I thought. After I had done my research and chosen a Medicare Advantage plan with a low monthly premium that includes prescription drug coverage, I learned that I will be getting a monthly stipend from my employer to help cover medical expenses. I don’t know how I missed knowing that this stipend was part of my retirement plan, but I had no idea. It’s a pleasant surprise, especially since the stipend exceeds my Medicare Advantage premium by more than $100 per month. I will use these funds to buy myself an individual dental insurance policy and to pay for deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance under my Medicare Advantage plan. I fully expect the stipend to cover 100% of these expenses, which will make the $100 per month I’ve budgeted for medical expenses available for other things.
All in all, as I begin the fourth year of my retirement, I’m feeling like I have a handle on my retirement finances and that I have more than enough to live comfortably.
2017 was an uneventful year in terms of my physical health. The only blips were a tick bite in the spring (not a deer tick or Lyme disease), some arthritis in my hands, and weight gain (especially over the holidays). I didn’t do as much walking as I might have liked during the good weather, but I didn’t have any episodes of spinal disk problems requiring medication or physical therapy. I also worked on my physical fitness this year with a program of standing on one foot (each foot in turn, morning and night) to improve my balance. When I began, I couldn’t stand on one foot for even thirty seconds, now I am up to three minutes on each foot twice a day. In the process, I’ve also improved my core strength.
In 2018, I’d like to get back into a walking regimen of at least 15 miles per week during the months I can walk outdoors. The winter months, when it is too icy to walk outdoors, have been a problem for me. But my new Medicare Advantage plan includes a Silver Sneakers® gym membership, which I can use at a gym less than 6 miles from my house. I’m hoping to get into a schedule of driving to the gym to walk on the treadmill three times a week until spring. While I’m there, I may also see if I can get help with some kind of strength training program.
As a general rule, my psychological health is very good. I am an optimistic person who is not prone to depression and who has good coping and stress-management skills. Nevertheless, I have noticed a slight increase in my levels of anxiety during the past few months. Some of this may be a response to the challenges of winter in Maine, which seem more daunting as I get older. Most of the increase in anxiety, however, seems to be an unanticipated response to having acquired my first cell phone. For years, I have been under pressure from family and friends to get a cell phone, for “peace of mind” in case of an emergency. The pressure ramped up in late summer, after I had a flat tire on a rural road and my lack of a cellphone created problems communicating with my roadside assistance provider. I keep the cell phone in a “go bag” that I take with me whenever I go out in the car. There’s no question that having it with me when I drove down to Pennsylvania and back in the fall eased worries about breaking down in the middle of nowhere. Surprisingly, though, taking it with me when I’m out doing errands makes me worry about breaking down in situations where it never would have occurred to me to worry before! Paradoxically, I think the solution is going to be to use the cell phone more, not just in emergencies, so that I “normalize” its presence.
Despite the slight increase in anxiety, I consider myself happy and healthy. This year, I feel as though I got the mix of scheduled activities and free time, of socializing and solitude just right. As I approach my seventieth birthday, I feel as though I am coming into the best years of my life and I’m looking forward to the year ahead.